The sound of the Last Post drifted out across Belfast city centre at lunchtime yesterday as the Union Flag was lowered to mark 100 years since Germany and Britain went to war.
While workers and shoppers milled about on the edge of the Cenotaph, a troop of unionist figures bearing red wreaths strode up to its steps, accompanied by a bagpiper.
They stood solemnly whilst Rev Billy Hoey intoned the Lord’s Prayer before leading them in a rendition of the national anthem – while a raft of onlookers joined in.
Participants in the First World War commemoration ranged from members of the Apprentice Boys and Orange Order to leading loyalists Billy Hutchinson and Jackie McDonald.
Rev Hoey, the Orange Order’s Ballynafeigh district chaplain, said to those assembled: “Why should we have this particular remembrance here today?
“Because it is good to remember those who made the supreme sacrifice, and why they were called up to make it.
“Then we can go on to ask what precisely we are doing to make this a world worthy of their sacrifice.
“And it’s good too for the younger generation to remember that, but for those sacrifices, they would have grown up in a totally different environment – an environment that would not have been to their liking.”
He ended with the famous English war adage, spoken on behalf of soldiers who were killed in the conflict: “When you go home, tell them of us and say – for your tomorrow, we gave our today.”
Among those at the event was Kristof Demey, a 40-year-old tour guide from Ypres in Belgium.
He has previously taken youngsters from the Province over to the continent to teach them about the conflict.
His grandfather Achille had been orphaned and ended up in the care of British soldiers for three-and-a-half years as the war raged.
Yesterday Mr Demey said: “I could be in Belgium also for the big commemorations over there, but it was my call to be here.” His message to the people of Ulster and the wider UK was “to say thank you very much for all the help you offered, fighting for the freedom of our country”.
The event was organised by the Unionist Centenary Committee, and its secretary, Stephen Gough, said that it was not just about remembering those who died in western Europe but also those who perished in Palestine, Turkey and elsewhere.
“They left here as young men, didn’t know what they were going to and died in foreign fields,” he said.
“So it’s an obligation on this generation, and on future generations, to remember.”
Asked what the legacy of their deaths was, he said: “Today we remain a free state, free country, a free people – and those are the most important things.”